Last night, taking the stage in the back room of Room of One's Own Bookstore in Madison, Debbie Notkin and Andrea Hairston launched WisCon with considerable panache. Debbie opened by reading a piece, both poignant and funny, on her mother. Her tone, reading, was understated and matter-of-fact, creating a striking and highly effective contrast to its intense emotional content. And then in a wild change of pace and tone, exuberant and crackling with energy, Andrea, accompanied by Pan Morigan, filled the room with the drama of excerpts from Redwood and Wildfire. Andrea's performance was interpolated by songs from the novel, which Pan (who composed the music to go along with the songs) sang. (Pan's banjo also created a distinctive atmosphere as Andrea read.) Andrea's reading culminated with one of those songs in which Pan's voice soared, and into which Andrea drew the audience to join. The audience's applause was absolutely thunderous.
All of this was part of the WisCon tradition. Debbie's reading nonfiction and Andrea's theatrical performance with Pan rang interesting changes on the tradition. Isn't that part of what we love about WisCon's traditions? That they offer forms that can be flexibly stretched to accommodate so many different approaches and kinds of creativity?
I do love this traditional Thursday evening opener that Room hosts. It's a wonderful bookstore to start with, and becomes even more wonderful when it fills with people most of whom haven't seen one another for months or in many cases for an entire year. Granted my travel day yesterday, which started at 4:30 a.m., was unduly protracted (including about an hour spent in an airplane without ventilation much less air-conditioning, parked at the gate, apparently waiting to have its auxiliary power supply restored). All of that fell away from me as I immersed myself in WisCon sociability. Before the reading, which starts at 6:30, Room always offers a spread of wine and cheese and veggies, which people sip and munch while moving among the book displays (so many Aqueduct Press books! Yay!) and hugging and chatting in a terrific crush of bodies. The trick is to make it into the back room in good enough time to snag a chair. (There are lots of chairs, but somehow, every year, quite a few people end up standing or, sometimes, sitting on the floor.) When I first started coming to WisCon, I'd arrive on Friday. Only later did I realize what I had been missing.
I took some photos of Debbie, Andrea, and Pan, but they didn't come out. (I've never managed to take a decent picture in that room yet.) So I apologize for not being able to offer you visual images of the event. But I'm hoping to report in, maybe even later today, perhaps with pictures.